When you lose a state champion to injury, it’s nice to know that you have a few more on the team to help ease the transition.
The untimely injury to senior Boardercross champ Elie Meierbachtol won’t be easy for the four-time OISA state champion Summit Snowboard Team to overcome.
But, the presence of fellow state champ, Lisa Page, and two returning members of the 2002 girls title team (Meghan Ferns and Grace Rickenbach) will make it difficult for the rest of the state to even approach the Summit.
“Winning state is the standard,” said Page, a junior who won the 2002 Slopestyle state title and finished second to Meierbachtol in Boardercross. “We’ve done it before, and we’ll aim for it again this year.”
Meierbachtol’s season-threatening ankle injury means that Page and Ferns will be relied upon even more, while young riders like sophomores Komisa Schwartzel, Mariam Appel and Rickenbach will have to step into the limelight.
“There’s a lot of young blood on the team this year,” coach Steve Grace said. “It’s a major bummer to lose Elie, especially when she’s the defending state champ. But we’re still in a pretty good position to compete for the state title.”
Other young riders like Bethany Hoikka and Michi Aniwanter will help the girls make up for the loss. But it won’t be easy by any standard. The girls team had also hoped that freshman Brisa Jessup could enter the fray and give them some much-needed depth. But Jessup broke her wrist during practice, and may be out for the season.
“It’s a little hard to assess where we’re at right now,” Grace said. “There are a lot of new faces and we have had very little practice time due to the lack of snowfall. We don’t even have a set schedule at this point.”
The first event of the season, a Slopestyle competition, was scheduled for Jan. 11, but was cancelled due to insufficient snowfall. A half-pipe event was scheduled for Jan. 30, but has been changed to a Boardercross because Mt. Hood Meadows doesn’t yet have a half pipe course.
Snowfall or no snowfall, both the boys and girls Summit teams will be ready for battle when the start gun sounds.
“It’s not a good thing to start so late,” senior Colin Franger said. “But all the other teams are in the same boat. Plus, a lot of our guys rode through the summer at Timberline, so I think we’ll be ready to defend our title when the time comes.”
Franger and the boys team are supremely confident heading into the season, with each of the Varsity I team members returning — most notably, Ben Connors. The senior superstar won all three individual events at last year’s state championships, and provides quiet leadership for an equally experienced team.
“It’s got to come to an end at some point,” Grace joked. “Ben wins everything. Tad (Hukari) has come a long way. And Colin, Paul (Rovianek) and Todd (Anderson) are also unbelievable. They will undoubtedly be the team to beat again this year.”
Connors’ dominance at last year’s OISA state championships proved what most of his teammates already knew the year before — that he is simply the best “rider” at the state high-school level. The HRV senior also showed well at the 2001 state championships, but was denied of the combined title because of a judges’ disqualification.
In essence, the ruling stated that Connors was too good, because he pulled off an “inverted” maneuver, which is a violation of OISA rules.
He toned it down just enough last year to win the Boardercross, Slopestyle and half-pipe titles, and help Summit reach a new peak. None of Connors’ teammates are bold enough to say they can catch him, but if anyone in the state is going to, it will likely be one of his teammates.
“We’ve got a really solid core group,” Franger said. “This year’s Varsity I team is pretty close to what we won with last year, so we’re pretty confident.”
The boys expect Barlow and West Linn to give them a run for their money, but if Summit can do what it does best at the March 6-8 State Championships, there shouldn’t be much drama.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Franger said. “If we can win a fifth straight state title, that would be pretty amazing for all of us.”
Page agrees: “Winning state last year was so fun,” she said. “When you do it as often as we have, it’s almost expected now. We believe we can do it again, and until someone proves they’re better, we’re the champs.”
Summit will take to the hill on Thursday, Jan. 30, at Meadows for the first Boardercross race of the season.